Real-time remote controls could also enable enterprises to remove humans from dangerous physical locations, such as mines, and let them control the equipment remotely – or even have autonomous operations.
6G ushers in era of sensory awareness
The new 6G spectrum also brings another benefit – an ability to better sense the environment, says Spirent’s Douglas. “The radio signal can be used as a sensing mechanism, like how sonar is used in submarines,” he says.
That can allow use cases that need three-dimensional visibility and complete visualization of the surrounding environment. “You could map out the environment – the shops, buildings, everything – and create a holistic understanding of the surroundings and use that to build new types of services for the market,” Douglas says. “What would you actually do with it? That’s where the developer community needs to get engaged to see where the potential would be.”
Another sense that 6G could enable is that of touch. “Right now, all communication is based on sight and sound,” he says. “But there are mechanisms that are being explored right now that would actually allow you to transmit a handshake to another person.”
All AI, all the time
AI is hot, both as a use case that requires high connectivity and as a tool that can help manage networks. And AI is improving very quickly; moving, it seems, faster than we can keep up with.
That’s true for networks as well. We don’t know yet what applications AI will help make possible, but it’s almost certain that high speeds, low latency, and universal coverage are going to help.
“The increasing penetration of AI into our everyday lives – from bots to autonomous things – will require more bandwidth, higher speeds, and more edge computing,” says Ken Quaglio, partner in the communications, media and technology practice of Kearney, a global management consulting firm. “So 6G will help all those things.”
On the operational side, telecoms are already using AI for planning, he says, and this trend will only accelerate. “6G will absolutely enable operators to create and deploy self-managing networks. These networks will tune themselves based on demand, optimize transmission routes, and repair themselves.”
AI can also help develop more cost-efficient networks, says Spirent’s Douglas, improve radio performance, and reduce the amount of data that needs to be sent over the airwaves. “We can build AI-powered compression right into the 6G standard,” he says. “Personally, I think you’ll see some of this in 5G Advanced because it’s highly valuable, so why wait?”
AI can also help reduce the environmental impact of 6G, says Sarah LaSelva, 6G specialist at Keysight Technologies. “For example, the technology can determine how to optimize power consumption by turning on and off components based on real-time operating conditions,” she says.
In general, the combination of complexity and the massive amount of data makes wireless networks ripe for AI optimization, she says. “As AI adoption matures, it will transform the wireless industry over the next decade,” she says.
With 6G, AI might also be embedded right into the network fabric, says Townsend. “It could be part of the service offering, rather than just being used as a tool in the back office to make the networks more efficient. That could lead to novel use cases.”
Consider, for example, how 4G networks enabled the explosion in ride-sharing apps. “That’s something nobody saw coming,” says Townsend.
Predicting the effect of 6G combined with next-generation AI is even harder, he says. “When we put this technology in the hands of software developers, that’s when we’ll really see innovation take off.”